Ethnic studies programs need more promotion

Madison Goodrich

When I first started my undergraduate career, I didn’t fully appreciate all the educational opportunities UT had to offer. I was originally admitted as a government major, but soon into my  college career decided to add a second major in African and African Diaspora Studies. That choice opened my eyes and enriched me in ways I could have never imagined. 

However, I was only exposed to the African and African Diaspora Studies Department after taking one of their classes and having multiple conversations with professors and other passionate students. Unfortunately, not many students are lucky enough to have the opportunity to receive degrees in majors like African and African Diaspora Studies, Asian American Studies, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, Middle Eastern Studies or Native American and Indigenous Studies, to name a few. 

UT needs to do a better job of promoting and encouraging students to major, minor or earn certificates in various ethnic studies programs. 

As of now, there is currently no specific University-wide recruitment process to encourage enrollment in the various ethnic studies departments. 

“We don’t have anything that is currently specific to those particular majors,” executive director of admissions Miguel Wasielewski said. “Our efforts focus more broadly on admission to the University and recruitment to the University of students that are coming from underrepresented backgrounds. Our outreach is not tied to individual majors.”

Tony Vo, advisor for the Center for Asian American Studies, said he believes the lack of enrollment and advertisement comes from students wanting a certain income once graduating from college.

“Liberal arts, by nature, is really hard to sell,” Vo said. “I think students are worried about real-life issues like how do I make money … how do I provide for my family … and I’ve seen, even in the way that we advertise or don’t advertise, majors really are impacted by this trend.” 

Another concern various ethnic studies programs have is the lack of certain minority students on campus who would possibly consider completing degrees from their programs. Wasielewski said there are currently recruitment efforts in place by admissions to change this. 

“We came up (with) a plan to develop a pipeline of students,” Wasielewski said. “We want to be able to start as early as their freshman year and identify students who might be admissible to the University.” 

Although UT has made strides to recruit more students from various backgrounds, individual departments shouldn’t bear all the burdens of recruitment, especially when these departments are underfunded and understaffed. The University should advertise these majors to all students regardless of their racial background during the admissions process and until they must declare a major. 

Students should be made aware of the unique opportunities right at their fingertips. For example, the African and African Diaspora Studies department is one of the best in the state and hosts multiple renowned professors that participate in groundbreaking research. 

Journalism senior Jacqui Briddell said she decided to minor in African and African Diaspora Studies because of the esteemed faculty and all the opportunities she can gain through the program. 

“UT has one of the largest black studies departments in the country and … we’re not taking advantage of that enough,” Briddell said. 

With better recruitment efforts early on, more students may be encouraged to complete a minor, major or certificate because they’ll know more about the opportunities those majors offer them. They will also have more time to consult with other students and faculty members in these departments.

Ethnic studies departments not only serve as platforms for learning, they also encourage research on underrepresented populations and help diversify the University’s faculty composition. The University should encourage all students, not just minority students, to engage in meaningful study with these rigorous and vital departments. 

Goodrich is a government and African and African Diaspora studies senior from Dallas.